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Who Is A Kafir In The Quran-Part 1 – Kafir and Mushrik and Idolater Are Not Synonyms

By Naseer Ahmed, New Age Islam

 A Comment By Observer in New Age Islam

9 Feb 2015

 An important corollary of my comment/article below, is that:

The Kafaru among the Christians, Jews and Pagans that the Quran refers to, are necessarily the Kafaru of the Prophet's times. 

Since the Quran does not identify the kafaru by their faith or belief systems, none of these verses apply to any of the people today. 

The proof that I have provided for this conclusion, is as strong as any proof in the sciences.

By Observer - 2/9/2015 11:33:21 AM


There is no verse in the Quran that asks the Muslims to fight with the kafir for any other form of kufr such as: Blasphemy, ridicule, rejecting faith etc.


The confusion arises because unfortunately, most  Muslims as well as non-Muslims including the Maulanas and the exegetes and the muffasirin  treat kafir, mushrik and idol worshipper as synonyms when the Quran makes clear distinctions between these terms and does not use the inappropriate term, even  in a single  verse.


There isn't a single verse in the Quran that directs Muslims to treat the non-Muslim who is not a Kafir in any manner other than with justice, kindness and friendship.


The verses against the kafirin, provide guidance on the appropriate treatment for the act of kufr mentioned in the Quran. The context is within the verse itself.


Who is a Kafir in the Quran? (Part 1)


Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall says: “In the Qur’an I find two meanings (of a Kafir), which become one the moment that we try to realize the divine standpoint. The Kafir in the first place, is not the follower of any religion. He is the opponent of Allah’s benevolent will and purpose for mankind - therefore the disbeliever in the truth of all religions, the disbeliever in all Scriptures as of divine revelation, the disbeliever to the point of active opposition in all the Prophets (pbut) whom the Muslims are bidden to regard, without distinction, as messengers of Allah.


The following article is a result of researching every occurrence of Kafir and Mushrik (polytheist) and their grammatical equivalents in the Quran. The Quran makes a very clear distinction between Kafir, Mushrik and idolater. These are not synonyms. Unfortunately however, most translators have been careless and treat these as synonyms. Even Yusuf Ali who is otherwise one of the better translators, is guilty of mistranslating on many occasions.

Who is a Kafir in the Quran?

Moses is kafir!

The word kafir is used by Pharaoh for Moses.

(26:18) (Pharaoh) said: "Did we not cherish thee as a child among us, and didst thou not stay in our midst many years of thy life? (19) "And thou didst a deed of thine which (thou knowest) thou didst, and thou art an ungrateful wretch (min-al-kafirin)!"

The word kafir therefore denotes the trait of ingratitude, rebellion, active opposition and has nothing to do with faith.

Muslims displaying certain characteristics are referred to as kafir

(2:253) For fighting with each other (2:254) For not practicing charity  (2:264) Those who cancel their charity by reminders of their charity or by injury. Those who spend of their substance only to be seen by men, but believe neither in Allah nor the last day.  (4:37) those who are niggardly or enjoin niggardliness on others, or hide the bounties which Allah hath bestowed on them (3:130) Those who devour usury (3:32) Those who do not pay heed when asked to "Obey Allah and His Messenger"

For the hypocrites among those who claimed to be Muslims

(2:19)  Those who bartered Guidance for error. Those who rejected faith.

 All those who display the characteristics of Kufr

(2:24) The doubters who said that Allah sends no revelations. They are asked to produce a Sura similar to any Sura in Quran and establish their charge with witnesses and if they fail to do so be prepared for the fate that awaits the Kafirin.

(2:191) Those who turned the Muslims out from their homes and practiced tumult and oppression.

(2:250) Goliath and his forces in the battle against David

(2:286, 3:147) Those who fight/stand against the faith

(3:141) For those who were in war with the Muslims

(4:140) Those who defy and ridicule the signs of Allah.

(4:150) Those who deny Allah and His messengers, and (those who) wish to separate Allah from His messengers, saying: "We believe in some but reject others": And (those who) wish to take a course midway,-

(5:44) If any do fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed, they are (no better than) Unbelievers.

(7:37) one who invents a lie against Allah or rejects His Signs

(7:45) "Those who would hinder (men) from the path of Allah and would seek in it something crooked

For Iblis or Satan

(2:34) Who refused to obey Allah's command and bow down to Adam

For the Jews/people of the Book

(2:89 ) For refusing to believe in the Quran as a revelation although it is a Book from Allah confirming what is with them  (89) in insolent envy that Allah of His Grace should send it to any of His servants He pleases.

(4:161) That they took usury, though they were forbidden; and that they devoured men´s substance wrongfully;

Those who are not kafir

 (3:113) Not all of them are alike: Of the People of the Book are a portion that stand (For the right): They rehearse the Signs of Allah all night long, and they prostrate themselves in adoration. (114) They believe in Allah and the Last Day; they enjoin what is right, and forbid what is wrong; and they hasten (in emulation) in (all) good works: They are in the ranks of the righteous. (115) Of the good that they do, nothing will be rejected of them; for Allah knoweth well those that do right.

(3:199) And there are, certainly, among the People of the Book, those who believe in Allah, in the revelation to you, and in the revelation to them, bowing in humility to Allah: They will not sell the Signs of Allah for a miserable gain! For them is a reward with their Lord, and Allah is swift in account.

(4:162) But those among them who are well-grounded in knowledge, and the believers, believe in what hath been revealed to thee and what was revealed before thee: And (especially) those who establish regular prayer and practise regular charity and believe in Allah and in the Last Day: To them shall We soon give a great reward.

(5:69) Those who believe (in the Qur´an), those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Sabians and the Christians,- any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness,- on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.

(10:40) Of them (applies to all non-Muslims) there are some who believe therein, and some who do not: and thy Lord knoweth best those who are out for mischief.

The Polytheists or the Mushrikin

While polytheism is described as an unforgivable sin and there are many verses which stress the point that the Prophets were not among those who associate others with God, there is not a single verse directed against any community or people of any faith including the Jews, Christians and the Polytheists unless they are also kafir or indulge in acts of kufr.

(2:105) It is never the wish of those kafaru among the People of the Book, nor of the Pagans (mushrikin), that anything good should come down to you from your Lord. But Allah will choose for His special Mercy whom He will - for Allah is Lord of grace abounding.

(98:1) The kafaru, among the People of the Book and among the Polytheists, were not going to depart (from their ways) until there should come to them Clear Evidence,-

(98:6) The kafaru, among the People of the Book and among the Polytheists, will be in Hell-Fire, to dwell therein (for aye). They are the worst of creatures.

Very clearly not all Polytheists, Jews or Christian or non-Muslims are kafir in the Quran which is why the verses specifically refer to only the kafir among these people.

To summarize, the Quran does not identify kafir by his/her belief system or faith but by certain specific characteristics that make the person an active enemy of Religion, God and the people of faith. A kafir is one who actively hinders people from practicing their faith, persecutes people of faith, opposes humanitarian practices such as giving of charity, shunning usury etc. A kafir could be a Muslim, Jew, Christian, polytheist, atheist and the term is faith neutral.

By Observer - 2/9/2015 9:27:19 AM

Naseer Ahmed is an Engineering graduate from IIT Kanpur and is an independent IT consultant after having served in both the Public and Private sector in responsible positions for over three decades. He is a frequent contributor to The author initially used a pseudonym "Observer" for this article.